Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Jaipur - a city of eccentricity

(Jaipur is located in the Northern state of Rajasthan)

My favorite city of North India (so far...) is Jaipur. As an artist, I found Jaipur to be one of the most unusual and eccentric cities in India that I have visited. It was so colorful and vibrant. Jaipur is known as "the pink city" and it is the largest city in the state of Rajasthan. There are so many fantastic monuments and incredible palaces to visit. I also found just traveling to and fro, and going to the markets, a very quirky experience. The people of Jaipur were incredibly friendly and easy to talk to. I found it to be a much softer city - in terms of people and food - than Delhi, which we had just traveled from previously. I had a wonderful time and I can't wait to take my father and Maya there one day.

Here are some pics from our trip:

(We stayed at a beautiful boutique hotel called the Samode Haveli)

(Amer Fort evening light show - with music)

(I found this old photo in the hotel & the young man on the left looks like a younger version of my husband!)

(Elephant at the Amer Fort)

(My favorite elephant with a tiger design)

(My mum makes friends everywhere she goes!)

(Amer Fort - incredible artistry)

(Wall painting in the Amer Fort)

(Ceiling in the Amer Fort)

(Love letters at the Amer Fort)

(Amer Fort)

(One of my favorite photos of husband-ji)

(Snake charmer at the Amer Fort - and I love the painting of himself behind him!)

(Anokhi museum - artist carving a wood block for textile printing)

(Finished block carving - incredible)

(Husband-ji trying out block printing)

(Me finding fabrics)

(Hand-dipped dyeing fabrics)

(Inside the vibrant main market)

(Embroidered trims for saree borders)

(Nerve Wracking!)

(No store? No problem!)

(Roadside dentures, anyone?)

(Outdoor dancers at the Rambagh Palace)

(Dancer at the Rambagh palace)

(Dancer at the Rambagh Palace)


It's hard to pick just one favorite part of the trip...the whole thing was magical. We were only there for a few days, so I can't wait to go back and discover more. I returned from the trip feeling very artistically inspired.

Places we discovered:

Jaipur Market

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This is the first post in my India travel series. Stay tuned for more!

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Motherhood has made me into a lazy Indian wife

(I USED to be the most perfect Indian wife on Earth...!!)

It's a fact...toddlerhood is totally kicking my ass. Oh yes, now my daughter is running. Outrunning me!
My wifely duties have really suffered. I haven't cooked a single thing in 2 months. All I eat for lunch is salad. And as soon as my husband comes in the door from work at 5pm, I immediately say, "Oh thank God you're home so I can put my feet up! What are you cooking me? I'm STARVING!" The only thing I have cooked him is his lousy cup of chai in the morning. Oh, my poor husband-ji. I know my MIL must be absolutely horrified that I'm both starving her son and putting him to work, after he gets home from work!

Right now this munchkin is really running circles around me! Toddlerhood is challenging in the fact that they still act like little drunk people, but they're running around, babbling crap you can't understand, and she still doesn't comprehend that she can't touch the cord or eat paper, for instance.

Anyways, this whole motherhood thing has made me into the laziest Indian wife ever. I remember the days...in a galaxy far far away (really only 2 years ago)...where I would cook all these complicated Indian dishes, clean the house spotless, practice my Hindi/Tamil/Telugu, and make myself look presentable. Oh, that seems like centuries ago. Now, I'm so busy looking after my daughter, I can't bring myself to cook anything, I hire a house cleaner, and on the good days I manage to brush my hair!!!

It's official. I'm totally the worst Indian wife ever. Oh, well, at least I know I'm a good mother. 

I'm sure the average Indian man would have divorced me by now, but husband-ji has been a great sport about it all. He never complains and he really helps me out. Fortunately for me, he loves to cook, so he's used this opportunity of my laziness to rediscover his passion for cooking. Every single day he cooks something different - just this week we had Pav Bhaji, Hyderabadi Veg Biriyani with Mirch Ka Salan, my favorite Aloo Jeera, Tomato Dal, Dosa, Tomato Chutney...So at least I'm a totally spoiled lazy Indian wife.

(Husband-ji's Hyderabadi Veg Biriyani with Mirch ka salan)

Maya has finally started to eat what we're eating (full-time) so at least I don't have to make her separate food. But I really can't bring myself to stand on my feet for an extra 30 minutes to cook for husband-ji, especially when he always has some remark like "There should be just a pinch more of jeera (cumin)"!!! I swear to God he gets those ideas from watching too much Food Network TV competitions.

For all the Westerners wondering what are the Indian wife duties...let me tell ya...being a traditional Indian wife is a full-time job. It's like being an Indian Goddess with 8 arms and doing the work of 20 people. The only thing I can compare it to by Western standards is a stepford wife on steroids. With 8 arms.

When I think of the traditional Indian wife, what automatically comes up is the 6 noble virtues of an Indian wife - from the Niti Sastra verses, which just happens to be from a 13th century Telugu poet. Although it is from the 13th century, it totally reminds me of many of the Indian elder aunty's in our big fat Indian family, especially my MIL who is a traditional Telugu lady.

(18th century South Indian antique - my parents' collection)

6 Noble virtues of an Indian Wife

1) Karyeshu Dasi: Works like a servant (can't you hire that out?)
2) Karaneshu Mantri : Advises like a minister (now that I can do...)
3) Bhojeshu Mata: Feeds like a mother (I reserve that task for his actual mother)
4) Shayaneshu Ramba : Pleases in bed like the heavenly beauty Rambha (Who the heck is Rambha, and does she take credit card?)
5) Roopeshu Lakshmi : Beautiful like the Goddess Lakshmi (I'm kinda cute with the makeup)
6) Kshmayeshu Dharitri : Having patience like Earth (this I have 100%)

So as a totally lazy Indian wife, I'd say I have #2 and #6. I can totally advise like a minister due to my dominating Alpha Western woman tendencies. And I surely have a shitload of patience, because how else would one make it through the day as a stay-at-home mom with a toddler?

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Thoughts on being a lifetime "foreigner"

(Will I always be seen as a foreigner? Delhi, 2010)

India has the only country I have ever visited where I've never been treated more as a "foreigner" Yes, I now refer to myself as a friggin' "foreigner". What the hell.

I have visited/lived in so many different countries but only in India do we have so many different names for "an outsider" - Foreigner. Gori. Firangi. Outsider. Westerner.

I started calling myself a foreigner because as the only non-Indian member of our big fat Indian family - that is what I'm referred to. Not the Canadian girl. The "foreigner". I don't exactly think it's a positive word. That word is like being called a stranger, or somebody who is a constant ignorant tourist, a visitor. Not someone permanent. Nobody in my family calls beloved husband-ji "a foreigner".

This is what Urban Dictionary said:

"An alien or person that has different customs, comes from a different country/territory, and is different from your own diverse culture, religion, or maybe race."
The foreigner could not understand the directions to get to Bounty Street.

But wait a sec, don't I do nearly everything the Indian way? Wow...I feel so at home...with a culture where I'm ALWAYS going to be considered "the token foreigner".

Maybe I'm more sensitive to this because I'm Canadian, and immigration is really welcomed here. Everyone is welcome to be Canadian whilst at the same time they are encouraged to preserve their own culture too. But when you get your PR card, and when you get your citizenship - it's like you're one of us. You're a resident of Canada. And when you marry into a Western family, you're part of the family...not like Indians who "belong" to one family or the other.

I guess I've been thinking about this because I'm currently in the process of waiting for my PIO card to come, and I was so excited about it's arrival because I thought it would be a really "desi moment" for me. Finally, another notch on my acceptance from Indians. Sometimes I feel like I've had to overcompensate so much in order to be accepted - to go the extra mile - because India & Indian mentality is so jai ho. From learning how to cook Indian food, wearing Indian clothes, getting to know the culture inside out, following the customs, religious customs...everything!

I mean, to be honest, we are dealing with a notoriously non-mixing culture here. With many Indians even living in the US - it's like they feel like they need to limit their exposure to non-Indians in order to preserve their culture. A relative of ours who I wrote about in this article will not even let their children socialize with non-Indians. And they live in the US. In fact, 99% of the Indians we know in the US only socialize with other Indians. When husband-ji went to college, he made lots of friends - Indian, Black, White, Hispanic, local Savannah people, everybody. And my FIL did the same when he went abroad. But I'm starting to admit to myself that a lot of the non-mixing Indians are discriminatory themselves...to "foreigners"...

After 7 years of being part of an Indian family, (or 6 years of "trying" to break the brick wall and then being publicly accepted) I'm starting to wonder if I'll always be seen as a foreigner...? And what about my daughter? So much of our Indian family goes on and on about how she looks like a foreign baby. Will she ever be accepted as a Indian, in India? Or will she be just another gori like me?

(Will Maya be seen as a foreigner? On her 1st birthday, wearing an Indian lehenga)

I recently got into an excellent debate over at my blogger sister's White Indian Housewife blog. She wrote a post and she was outraged that at private hospitals in Mumbai - they are charging the "foreigner price" or as I like to call it, the "foreigner debt" to (white) women who are residents of India and have PIO's. The comments were getting really heated and it was basically like a back and forth - desis vs. the foreigners battle.

Westerners love to debate. We like to find out all the WHYs culturally. It can get really annoying for Indians to explain these customs when they themselves had never had to explain them. I noticed that the Indians were getting extremely defensive about "foreigners" critiquing the way Indians do things. One foreigner was getting really pissed off about it, and this is what I said to her:

Hi Rebecca,
I really can understand your anger and frustration with a lot of the things you have said regarding being discriminated about being foreign. It raises an important point – are we being discriminated against because of the British raj and all the awful things they did, and Sonia Gandhi, etc – like a subconscious debt that we will always have to repay? It’s hard to say exactly.
I went to school with many Jewish kids who had grandparents who were in the concentration camps and their whole family killed, and because I heard so many awful things about what the Nazis did, I still have trouble with my bias towards Germany…I will avoid even transferring through frankfurt airport because all I think about is concentration camps. I literally have to stop myself from feeling weird about anyone who is German, even though WW2 happened over 60 years ago. One of my white American friends who was dating an Indian guy said that he said that he could never tell his parents about her due to the fact that it'd be too close for comfort with the British thing (with all the bad stuff that happened during the British raj).
I think the reason why people are getting so mad at you and deflecting it away, is that Indians really don't like to admit the bad stuff to people who are considered as outsiders. Even in Indian family dynamics – I’m allowed to complain about family members to other family members, but I'd better not complain to someone outside the family; and someone outside the family better not complain about us – type of mindset.
I think Westerners in general have less shame for these type of things and are more open about our defeats. For example, the in the US the Trayvon Martin case is an absolute tragedy of justice. If any non-American complains about it, we will also complain about it and ADMIT that “Yea, it really sucks.” Same with the Italians as well – my dad can go to any Italian restaurant/cucina and say, “Berlusconi sucks” and they'd totally agree, and they'd complain together.
In Indian psyche, it’s like a separation thing – my family vs. the outside – kind of like the reputation, caring what others think, etc. – a very Asian mentality. So regarding any complaints that we foreigners have about India, it’s automatically the desis vs. the foreigners (even though they may even agree with us).
But India is like that…it is what it is…there is lots of unfairness, inequalities and corruption, and even the Indians have accepted this, so we have to accept it too. Even though it’s wrong. Even though it’s unfair.
Regarding the constant injustices, even Indians themselves have many difficulties. One of my favorite Indian authors Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni said, “only the most fortunate and most well connected people get the best of life in India”. My husband (Tamil guy) says you can get better chances (either through bribing or connections) with school admission, getting a job interview, ANYTHING to do with government paperwork, traffic police, airport customs, getting into seeing a doctor quicker, and even in temples getting closer to the shrine. So Indians also have this problem too with the corruption.
But I guess we're not allowed debate about certain things because we're foreigners…even though Westerners enjoy the process of debating because we want to find out WHY (culturally), I think to Indians it is seen as “pointing out the dirty laundry” type of thing.…so…it is what it is. It’s part of the deal, even though it sucks. I can relate…but I have to keep my mouth shut, to an extent!

I guess the bottom line - where it really matters - is that on a day to day basis with my husband, I never really notice that we are an intercultural couple. But whenever I visit India, and a lot of the times with his family, I do feel like "the foreigner".



What about you, dear readers? Are we as foreigners paying a "debt" to India when being overcharged (in India when visiting monument sites, etc), due to all the atrocities by the British Raj/Sonia Gandhi?
Do you find that when you criticize anything to do with India, Indians can get really defensive?
And most importantly, do you still feel like the foreigner in the Indian family dynasty?


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Sunday, July 28, 2013

"My daughter can marry a Western man; but my son can't marry a Western woman"

I was recently in an Indian restaurant, when I overheard two elder Indian ladies talking (my favorite thing to do is eavesdrop!):

Elder aunty #1 was saying that she had a Western son-in-law who was a great husband to her daughter, always helping her out in the kitchen. Elder aunty #2 said her friend had a Western daughter-in-law and was having an awful time because she when she would visit, there would be no respect to her and was horrified that her precious son had to help wash the dishes (god forbid, how awful!). Both the elder aunty's then agreed that if any of their children HAD to marry a foreigner, they would prefer them to marry a Western man, instead of a Western woman.

I found this to be very interesting. Normally, conservative Indians are gung-ho (or should I say "jai ho"!) about "no foreigners allowed whatsoever in our Indians-only family", but it seems the trends are changing. More and more there is a presence of Whindian couples and in recent years, and I have noticed a huge surge. Indians are still leaving India to go abroad, but it seems that they are getting ballsier about their choice for a spouse - even if it is an intercultural relationship. Sometimes elders have no choice but to accept it, for fear of losing their children altogether. And that includes adopting more modern attitudes about marriage and parenting.

So, what are the conservative Indian elders favoring now? A Western son-in-law instead of a Western daughter-in-law!!! Mind you, this is not the first time I have heard about this particular viewpoint. This is the FOURTH time!!! If it happens twice, it could be a coincidence, but if it happens more than 3 times, there is probably a trend emerging...

In Indian families, the son is favored, as they will be the ones responsible to financially provide for the family. In very conservative families, the son can basically do whatever he wants. The son's only responsibility is to study and get a good job so that he can financially support the family. He is not expected to cook or do any housework of any kind. And when a son-in-law joins the family, he is treated the same way. He can ask for anything - of any monetary value (iPad, iPhone, gold) and the inlaws will feel ashamed to say no. In terms of parenting, a conservative Indian father will only be expected to either play with, or discipline the child, maybe help with homework occasionally, and never be required to participate in the baby care such as diaper changes, bath, etc. But THAT was in the elder aunty's generation. Now, there are tons of modern Indian men who take an active role in co-parenting and equal partnership.

It is interesting that these elder aunty's are pleased by a Western son-in-law. After all, many Western sons of my generation are raised to not only be the provider, but to help out around the house, be very affectionate to their wife, and play an active role as a co-parent (and even baby-wearing!). One time when we went to the Superstore, my back was hurting so husband-ji offered to carry our baby in the baby carrier. An elder Indian aunty walked by us and whispered, "Look at this good Indian boy, his gori (white) wife is making him carry the baby and she only is walking around carrying nothing!  How awful!" But I think if the tables were turned - if I was the Indian, and my husband was the Gora - they would praise him for helping out with the baby.

(My husband carrying the baby AND the stroller while I shop! Thanks hubby! I really appreciate it!!!)

In Western families, co-parenting was present in my parents' generation, but not in my grandparents' generation in 1940's North America. In my generation, I would say 3/4 of our Western friend-couples (2nd generation Canadians and longer) participate in equal partnership. Our prenatal classes and hospital tours were filled with engaging soon-to-be fathers; and it is customary for men to be present for childbirth. So these elder aunty's are probably basing their opinions on what they witnessed of men in their generation ONLY.


(My dad played a very active role as a co-parent - this is typical in many Western families)

For many traditional Indians, expecting an Indian son (or son-in-law) to help out around the house is considered to be offensive and outrageous. Thus is the inequality in many conservative Indian families...sons are favored over daughters.

These beliefs that I have mentioned are present in very conservative traditional Indian families, mostly from my husband's parents generation - the elder aunty's generation. My MIL said that she noticed trends started changing in India when women started working and getting good jobs, and breaking away from living as joint families. But even today, in many modern families, sons are still favored over daughters. I myself, have noticed trends changing in our generation - as we and many of our Indian cousins participate in the concept of equal co-parenting. I would say that about half of our (Indian) generation would still favour sons over daughters, but many would be absolutely thrilled to have a daughter.

A while ago, my friend in Philadelphia, came across the same thing. She was talking to an elder Indian lady about how her friend (me!) had married an Indian. The elder aunty asked if her friend was a boy or a girl. When she said I was a girl (and that I married an Indian boy), the lady shook her head. "Poor girl," she said. "I would never allow my son to marry a foreign wife. But I would be ok with my daughter marrying a foreign husband."

Every couple, whether it is Indian or Western is different. In the end, it depends more on personality, although there are many cultural influences.

Very interesting! What about you, dear readers? Have you come across this particular viewpoint in your communities?


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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Marriage 101: Reining in your dominance

(Who's the boss? Cochin, Kerala 2010)

In every relationship, there is a dominant one and a not-so dominant one. Some couples stay in that role for life, and others go back and forth all the time. It is part of the natural yin & yang of marriage. Sometimes there are two dominant personalities in a relationship, one has to "let" the other take charge a bit more. After all, marriage is about making equal compromises...but the dominant spouse usually gets the final say. Either that, or they can just persuade a bit better!

Dominance can easily get carried away and turn into a controlling relationship. And that is a big no-no. If you are feeling insecure and selfish, one can become like a dictator. A spouse can be dominant without becoming controlling, but that is a seasoned skill that one has to learn - the dominance must be reined in. If you have many dominant traits in your personality, you must be careful not to smother your spouse with your assertiveness. 

You can harness your dominance by always putting your spouse's feeling first, by romantic gestures, communication, and really trying to understand their viewpoints. A marriage is a partnership of TWO people and your spouse must always get an equal vote in every decision - whether it is buying a house, or what cuisine to have for dinner.

Sometimes dominance is developed naturally and other times it is learned from what we see in our families' relationships. For example, if your elders are all dominant men/women, then you will probably end up imitating them, even if it is subconsciously.

I have struggled with this a lot because I come from a long line of dominant women, and I have had to learn to harness this personality trait. The reason why it works is that I am very considerate of my husband's feelings, and am not a selfish person. I would say I definitely have the final say on any major decisions due to the fact that I think very long term and wide ranging (I'm a Libra!). BUT I value my husband's ideas and respect that he has a lot of valuable opinions to bring to the table, so I always ask him for advice. Sometimes I follow his advice, and sometimes I do not. My dominance sometimes makes me feel like I know best 100% of the time, but sometimes I don't - and when I make a mistake I apologize and immediately own up to it. At times, the dominance goes back and forth - he "lets" me, and I "let" him, but I'm probably the more dominant one 70% of the time!

Sometimes in a marriage it can appear that a man is in control, but it is really the woman who is calling all the shots, and vice versa. There is a funny Greek saying that is "the man is the head, and the woman should be the neck...turning the head in the right direction".

In Indian marriages (and many Asians too) the sons are favored and therefore raised to be dominant. And there's no stay-at-home dads in India (even though many modern Indians do participate in co-parenting). Indian men have very traditional roles of "the provider", and it is very much connected to their own sense of masculinity. It was made very clear to me from the beginning that husband-ji should be the breadwinner, and if I wanted to work I could, but I was not required to as it is his burden responsibility as a man to financially take care of me. As a Western woman, I do not need a man to financially take care of me, nor is it expected - but I've had to learn to play along with this as this is the culture that I married into, and the Indian culture is present in so much of our daily life.

What about you, dear readers? Who is the dominant one in your relationships? Do you find that dominance has to do with gender & culture?


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Friday, July 26, 2013

Getting my first hate letter

Well, it finally happened. After 7500+ pageviews this month, and countless wonderful fan letters...we got our first bad apple. I knew it was coming eventually, as there are lots of bullies on the internet who are just looking for their next target.

This is the first time and the last time I will address a hateful comment.

The comment is too vile and offensive to publish. It called me many profanities and many racist derogatory slurs. It said that I married my husband "for attention, sex, and money because your own men aren't good enough". Then it went on to say I deserved to die, blah, blah, blah....and some more derogatory slurs.

Wow. Classy. And who exactly is my own men? I married an Indian. He's a human being. We are of different cultures, not of different species. It's not really a big deal....but maybe for narrow-minded people it is.

I asked a fellow Whindian blogger about it and she said that they had all received it.

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Anyways, here is my response to this comment:

Dear "Anonymous" Internet Troll,

I married my husband for LOVE. He is the best thing that ever happened to me and he is the only person on this earth that was meant for me. I love him in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, 'til death do us part. I am grateful to have found him and even more lucky that we got the chance to start a family together.

At first when I read your comment, I burst out laughing. It was so shocking and ridiculous to hear that people like you are wandering around this Earth thinking like that. But then I started to pity you. You are just a miserable person and your comment exposes your own terrible reality - a racist, ignorant, narrow-minded person...who is trapped in a modern ever-changing world.

This isn't the first time that I've been called a derogatory slur by a stranger, and it probably won't be the last. There is nothing that you can say to me that will make me upset. I am an empowered woman, who is grateful every day because I have a strong man who walks beside me as my equal, I am an excellent mother, and I am fearless in expressing my voice through my writing and art. I am empowered by LOVE. If you read my blog then you know that and that is exactly what drives you crazy. I only hope that one day you will find a true love like this, and your hateful heart will have the opportunity to be blessed with love. Unfortunately, your hateful comments prove that this has not happened for you yet. I feel sorry for you and I will pray for you.

If you feel like making another hateful comment, have the balls to give your full name, telephone number, address, and workplace (if any!) so I can give it to the police for harassment and threats. They're on my speed dial.

There is a growing community of intercultural couples and we aren't going anywhere. WE ARE HERE TO STAY, and we are proud to be intercultural. As of 2010, 1 in 12 married couples in the U.S. were interracial. So you might as well go live in some remote place, along with no internet access if it bothers you that much.

Best Wishes,
Madh Mama

P.S. Don't ever visit my blog again.


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(Img via)

Moving along...

My comment moderation policy is that you can say anything that is not abusive or creepy. You can agree with me or disagree with me regarding the topics I post. The ones that I will not publish are the ones that are hateful. You can submit it, but don't waste your time...because it will be DELETED!

My blog is a place of LOVE and happiness. My blog is a creative outlet for me; as well as being a safe place/community for intercultural couples, any couples - married or dating, parents, artists, or anybody who can relate to me.

Cheers to being fearless and empowered, and only positivity going forth!!!

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Redefining the role of Fathers

This past week, I caught an episode of Oprah's Lifeclass on the subject matter of "Fatherless Sons". I thought it was very interesting regarding the experience of fatherhood. In it, they addressed ways a father can connect with his children; how men can tap into their nurturing energy; and how to become more emotionally available to children.

I really believe that all men have a nurturing energy - a "fatherhood" energy that is waiting to be ignited. Many men are not raised to express their emotions and this is why it takes them longer to tap into this energy.

In our global society (which includes both Western & Indian cultures), men are seen as the provider, and women are seen as the nurturer. In Asian cultures, it's that on steroids!

When men become fathers, it is common to have a delayed bond with the baby, as they have just received this child - not like the woman who has been already getting to know the baby's rhythms from inside the womb, and a natural mothers' instinct that is harnessed during pregnancy. It is the mother who has to grow the child within her, birth the child, and then breastfeed the child; while the father is just a bystander during this major developmental and bonding time. Many men do not have a mother's instinct, and they do not know how to harness a nurturing energy towards a child. The biggest mistake women & mothers can make is to leave the fathers out of it, or critique the father's developing bond. They are 9 months behind in catching up, and should only be encouraged to bond and parent in their own way.

It also touched on men being emotionally available to their family. It doesn't matter if you're physically present - it matters if you're emotionally available. Many men are not taught how to express their emotions, or even how to interact without anger.

Notes:

- In order to heal our children, we must first heal the boy's heart beating inside our men. Heal our men = you heal the land.

- As soon as a boy child can stand up and establish a sense of self, they express anger. Men have been raised to have no emotional capacity to express emotions.

- Men are not a different species. They are human too. Every man has been taught to "stop crying" or stop expressing emotions.

- Role of a father is to establish structure in the household; kind, loving, disciplinarian; saying to wife & children "I will protect you".

- There is a male energy in life & kids need this [father role model] to "lift them up off their feet".

- Men need to learn how to be tender with their children.

- Ways a father can participate: pick your child up from school; cook a meal together; take a day off work and go on a school trip; go to parent/teacher conferences; visit the school; go to a school performance; attend graduation; teach your child something you love.
(I would also add to this list: read a book to your child, do arts and crafts with them, take them to a museum, take them to the beach, go shopping together, go for brunch together - and mothers should encourage fathers and children to have lots of one-on-one time).

The two dominant men in my childhood were my father and my paternal grandfather. My grandfather used to take me ice skating and taught me how to ride a bike. My father used to drop me/pick me from school, take me to brunch on Sunday, take me to the aquarium "just because" and go swimming with me and chase me in the water. One of my sweetest memories after I became a teenager was going shopping with my father, who used to pick out my perfume - he picked out Marc Jacobs because it "smelled young and flirty", which made me feel like he was accepting of my transition to a woman and not ashamed of my growing feminine energy. His nurturing as an emotionally present father made me feel confident in my own skin.

Here are some videos from the segment:










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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hierarchy in Indian families

(Where do I fit in this big huge family dynasty? Hyderabad 2011)

When foreigners are entering an Indian family, many will be shocked to see that there is a definite hierarchy within Indian families. As a foreigner, or as a newest member of the family, you will be at the bottom rung. This is common for even Indian girls who are marrying into their family. You have to earn respect from the family - it is not just simply given. Foreigners are often treated like "a potential divorce that is waiting to happen" until you "prove" your commitment to the family by producing a child, or just by standing the test of time. Even Indian girls have this problem, as when they marry into their husband's family they are seen as their husband's property, and have to ask their husband's parents regarding any important decisions. 

As a foreigner, I didn't mind being on the bottom rung because I was left out of many of the family melodramas (and I was glad to be a spectator and not a participant). However, I was around for over 5 years before we got married, so the respect was earned with so much effort from my side. If you are a foreigner who is introduced to an Indian family as "a girlfriend" - then boy, have you got your work cut out for you. Indians don't date, and it is very awkward for your future inlaws to try to build a relationship with you without a wedding date set. They - and everyone else - are going to be giving you "girlfriend" treatment - which is basically "I don't know how long you'll last" treatment. Trying to build a relationship with your future Indian inlaws before marriage is like climbing a brick wall without any hands and feet. It is very difficult, and it requires a lot of patience...but if you wait it out it CAN be done. For me, it took over 5 years, but luckily I was young and malleable. The main thing I would tell other foreigners just starting out in a Whindian family relationship - is be very patient and go in with zero expectations. Respect is earned.

As I said in a previous post, when a girl marries an Indian boy - they belong to his family. They are the new member to this very complicated dynasty. If it is a joint family (10 people in one house) then it can be really tough. Unlike Western men, who always put their wife first; traditional Indian men (especially the eldest son) have heavy responsibilities to their families. The eldest son of an Indian family is expected to host/ take care of his parents when they get older; and if it is a traditional man, he will put the new wife as equal (or less than equal) importance to his parents. Nowadays things are different - people are not living in joint families so much, so the wife has a chance to be important to her husband. But no matter where he is living, or how modern he is, it will ultimately be the eldest son's responsibility to take care of his parents. Many sisters can also be protective of their brothers, and prone to bickering with the brother's new wife - because the wife is going to be responsible to look after her parents.

In Indian families, the hierarchy (almost like a caste system) is ALL ABOUT AGE. The eldest is respected the most, and the youngest the least (except children). Elders must always be respected, even if what they're saying is wrong. There is no talking back, ever. Having a disagreement is being disrespectful. You basically can't do anything but nod your head and say "yes, sir/ma'am". The more aged a person is, the more you have to keep your mouth shut.

If it is a joint family, the eldest male has the final say on the whole family. He is also responsible for financial decisions, and discipline. The eldest female is responsible for managing the household (using the DIL's as assistants) and keeping all the family problems under control. Then, after that comes the siblings and their wives, from eldest to youngest. If one of the younger people are very intelligent and mature, the family may take advice from them. But usually it is all based on age. It doesn't matter how successful someone is, or how many kids they have, or even if they are uneducated - age trumps it all!!! Elders are to be respected no matter what.

India is a patriarchal society, and the wives must always consult their husbands first, even if they are more dominating. A woman is usually only allowed to express dominance towards a younger woman in the family - hence all the problems between MILs & DILs; and SIL's.

There is also a hierarchy for the order in which everyone is served food. If there is a guest visiting the house, then they will be served first - as Indians believe that "atithi devo bhava": guest is god. Then the young children and the elderly will be fed next. After that is the eldest adult siblings, followed by the youngest adult siblings. The adult women, or whoever is seen as the host, with usually eat last. My observation that women eat after men - is because there are just too many people to serve first!



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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What I learned in my first year of parenthood

(Maya at 3m & me)


"The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new" - Rajneesh


I feel like I lived 100 years within that first year of parenthood. It was amazing. Nothing prepares you for it. I wouldn't trade it for the world, and I would relive it over and over again - the good and the bad. When we had our baby - we didn't know how to feed her, how to change her diaper, how to hold her - but we learned - and we learned because we loved her more than anything. There's nothing more exhilarating and terrifying than becoming a parent for the first time.

Here's what I learned in my first year of parenthood:


Respect for mothers
Seriously. We grew the baby inside of us, we gave birth to the baby (have you ever seen the size of a baby's head? Imagine that!!!) all by ourselves, and had to LEARN how to breastfeed, all while being completely exhausted from childbirth. You're bleeding out of your ass for months, you're leaking out of your boobs, and you're more hungry than you were when you were pregnant! Not to mention trying to maneuver around everybody telling us what to do & overwhelmed husbands who is usually still in shock from the whole process! It makes me respect my female ancestors, as well as any mom I see on the road. We have freakin' superpowers, y'all!!!

Mother's Instinct
Mine started to kick in when I was pregnant. It's like all of a sudden you get all these psychic abilities, and suspicious feelings about people (of course, others will claim you are being" crazy and hormonal" but you are totally right about everything!) If you are able to harness this energy, it will serve you really well. From when your baby is feeling hungry, to the exact moment when to do a diaper change...nurturing a natural mother's instinct can improve your confidence as a parent. Sometimes you can develop this skill by just being mindful - stopping everything that you're doing and just listening to the universe, and your baby - especially if they're not talking, they can't tell you what's wrong. A mother and a child were physically attached for 9 months - so don't doubt your mother's instinct for a second!

DO NOT EVER take anyone's advice
People will give you advice to help guide you along, and they all think they know the best - but they really only know what worked for them. Some people can be really adamant and pushy about parenting or baby care styles - but when it comes down to it, it's whatever works - for YOU. You are the mom/dad and nobody can tell you what to do with your child. Not even the grandparents. NOBODY! Sometimes you have to put your foot down and create boundaries to all the unsolicited advice. Don't take the comments personally, shut your ears off, and create boundaries as needed.

Don't micromanage your spouse
This is SO important not only for the sake of your marriage, but for the sake of your husband's transition to fatherhood. We need to encourage fathers to be confident, connected with our babies, and not constantly looking to us for advice. They are going to make mistakes. They are going to feed them the wrong things. They are going to dress them wrong. Just let them be!!! Control your controlling tendencies. They are 9 months behind us in bonding with the baby. You have to be extremely patient with your husband during this time - and this is very hard considering you must be exhausted and sleep deprived!!! And don't let the inlaws step in too much and hinder his bonding time (especially if you're a Whindian couple, this is common)

Get the baby on a routine - NOT a schedule
Get in tune with your baby enough to know what their natural timings are - nap times, feed times, play times. If need be, write everything down. When you become a parent, you're on the baby's schedule - but you can create a flexible routine that matches your baby's rhythms. Children love routine - it is comforting to them, and they also learn from it. Setting up a routine will also help the parent - then you know when you can do things for yourself, like shower, eat, emails, etc. Having a routine actually makes life easier. And you can switch it up - do different styles of play each day, take the baby to restaurants for dinner, etc.

Make parent friends
I can't stress how important this is. I wrote about this in a previous post and making mom friends has really helped me. It is wonderful to talk to another mom, who is also learning how to maneuver around the tricky world of parenthood, share tips and advice (even marriage advice!), funny stories - AND your baby gets to have a play date. There's nothing more isolating than talking to one of your childless friends who is wondering what you're doing all day.

You will develop patience that you never knew you had
Parenting is a job that is constantly evolving and changing, and just experiencing all of this gives you a whole new skill set that you never knew you had - the biggest being patience and flexibility! There will be a dismal time... when the baby won't stop crying (in public!), when the baby vomits all over your hair, when you get poo on your face, when you start crying because you're so tired AND hungry...all of this develops patience that is sent to your brain from some other galaxy. Thank you, aliens, for this extraterrestrial superpower!

Be present in the moment
Kids grow up so fast. One minute they're just a big sleeping blob, the next minute they're crawling, walking - all within a year! It goes by SO FAST. And the next thing you know, they turn into little women/men who don't want a hug!!! So let the laundry pile up, let the dishes pile up, let your house get filthy, and just sit there and enjoy your baby (while she's still a baby - blink and you'll miss it!)

Take care of yourself, too
If you can't take care of yourself, then you can't take care of your baby. Get some sleep while you can. Eat nourishing food. Make an effort for your spouse. I learned this really fast due to my postpartum iron-deficiency where one time I almost fainted while I had Maya on the change table (scary!!!) And you also have to take care of yourself mentally. Get some alone time - pamper yourself. You deserve it. Being a parent is the most demanding job in the world! Your needs don't just disappear once you have a baby. Yes, you have less time. But make YOU a priority too.

Kids don't need a lot
Love them, feed them, and clean them. That's all. Everything else is not required. You don't need endless amounts of money to raise a child. You just need to love them and be emotionally present. It's really that simple.


Parenting, in a nutshell, is "WHATEVER WORKS". So what if you co-sleep. So what if you bottle feed. So what if you use a pacifier. So what if you breastfeed in public. If the baby's happy, if the family's happy - then who cares? WHATEVER WORKS!!!!!


P.S. Congrats to Kate & Wills on a healthy baby boy!


(Img via)

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Our big fat Indo-Canadian-Tamil-Telugu-Whindian wedding!!!

(Our wedding portrait)

2 years ago today we were married in a beautiful ceremony in my mother's front yard. We invited about 65 people, but it turned into over 100 people because everyone wanted to come celebrate with us! It was surreal - everyone from different stages of my life, all in one room...some even knew me before birth! All the people who attended our wedding were our biggest supporters and we felt so much love that day. One of our guests remarked, "This wedding is beyond multicultural...it's intergalactic!!!"

It was one of the best days of my life. After so many years of being together, it was a beautiful way to celebrate our love.

It was important to me to have it at my childhood home because I was most comfortable there, and it was more personal for our guests. My mum went all out decorating the place - with saree fabric tented over the walls; garlands of jasmine, marigolds, and roses that were shipped in from India - it was just divine.

We decided to do a non-religious ceremony that honored both of our cultures with a Celebrant to officiate the wedding. Each of the traditions were very meaningful and romantic.

We were presented to the altar ("mandap") by both our parents, lead by our mothers. Right before the ceremony started, church bells rang in the distance, all of a sudden! Then my favorite auntie (auntie #1) gave the rings to the Celebrant. During the ceremony, the rings were passed around and blessed by all our guests.  The celebrant read a speech which was personalized from our love story - about what we love about each other, how we met and fell in love, and all our hopes for the future. The ceremony was sealed with a kiss, in Western tradition; and my MIL sang a bhajan to close the ceremony. After it was over, the Celebrant took us to a private room to have a few minutes away from the crowd. After that, we greeted our guests and dined together. For the food, we served a buffet-style of Indian, Thai, and West Coast Canadian cuisine for our multi-cultural guests. We did a traditional Western "bouquet throwing", cake cutting, first dance, and father/daughter dance. Then we all danced to Soultown music & Indian music until midnight!

(The altar)


(The flowers)

(Guest seating)

(Entrance)

(Ganesh at the entrance way)

(The pool in the backyard)

(Our wedding rings which were blessed by each of the guests)

(My bridal mehndi)

(During the ceremony)

(Our parents)

(Exchanging rings in the Western tradition)

(My MIL sang a Bhajan while we signed the marriage certificate)

(Our dads signed the marriage certificate as our witnesses)

(Our Indian cousins from the U.S.)

(Guests dining under tented saree fabric)

(Throwing the bouquet - my friend caught it!)

(cake cutting)

(Father/daughter dance - "In My Life", by The Beatles)

(First dance together as a married couple - "Khuda Jaane")

(My MIL dancing the night away)


Details:

Our dresses/jewelry/accessories: Kalaniketan Wedding Mall in Hyderabad.
Wedding rings: GRT jewelers in Hyderabad.
Mehndi: 604 Mehndi by Fahath.
The Flowers: Hilary Miles.
Garland flowers: Fancy Florist (ordered online).
The food: The Lazy Gourmet.
Cake: Sweet Naturally.
Officiant: Modern Celebrant, Michele Davidson.
Music/DJ: Solomon Riby-Williams.
Party Favors: Sandalwood fans from Beaucoup (ordered online).
Photographers: My dad and my cousins!


Click HERE to read what our Celebrant said about our wedding ceremony.


Click HERE to read my best marriage advice.
Click HERE to read my advice for other intercultural couples.

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